Epiphyllum oxypetalum: Queen of the night

Family: Cactaceae
Common name: Queen of the night, Princess of the night, Dutchman’s pipe cactus, Jungle cactus, Lady of the night, Night-blooming cereus, Large-flowered cactus, Vanilla cactus, Large blooming cereus, Organillo, Sweet-scented cactus

These amazing cactus plants will become the highlight of your garden when it blooms in the night, with lovely white flowers that have a heady fragrance. Queen of the night plants are epiphytes, growing on other plants or on rocky areas in the wild, to a height of 3-6 meters.

In home gardens, they usually grow 1-2 meters tall with green, succulent, flattened stems which look like fleshy leaves. Primary stems are roughly circular in cross-section and woody towards the base. Secondary stems look like fleshy leaves with wavy or toothed margins.

These stems are waxy and long, bearing large flowers that are 20-30 cms long and about 15 cms in diameter. Queen of the night flowers have many thin, tapering tepals, the lower ones are reddish and the upper ones are white in color.

Petals are white, gossamer-thin, and lovely, arranged in many layers. They have numerous white stamens with yellow tips and a distinct white style. Fruiting is rare, but the plant is capable of producing purple-red fruits that are 10-15 cms long, containing small seeds that are 1-2 cms long.

Queen of the night plants bloom during summer and spring, each bloom opening only once during the night. They start opening around 7 pm and continues till about 10 pm, closing before sunrise. So people stay up late at night to see these flowers bloom, each adult plants producing 5-20 flowers at a time.

These flowers are wonderfully fragrant, showy, and attractive to moths, bats, and nocturnal animals that help pollinate them. They can also be grown indoors near sunny windows, but will not bloom as much without good sunlight.

Though these are cactus plants, they need moisture and frequent watering. In order to ensure that the soil is well-drained, mix cocopeat, perlite and small pieces of wood bark into it; to make the soil loose and airy.

If the plant becomes too long and leggy, they can be pruned, and the cut pieces planted to form new baby plants once they dry out for a few days. It’s important for calluses to form on the cut ends before they are planted, to prevent root rot. It’s a good idea to provide support for long stems that tend to droop to the ground.

They are tolerant of shade, and can be kept in the shade in a corner of your garden. Harsh sunlight might burn the tips of the stem. Baby plants need some tender, loving care with regular watering and fertilization.

But once they are established in the soil, Queen of the night plants can be ignored occasionally till blooming season arrives, when they need to be fertilized more frequently. These plants have some medicinal uses in the treatment of rashes, fever, inflammations, and diabetes.

Propagation is through stem cuttings, even the secondary stems that look like leaves can root readily when planted in the soil.

Image credits: Durga Prasad